Smaller Orlando restaurants could serve booze under Rene Plasencia bill

Rene Plasencia
Local regulations would ease regulations in the city's historic districts.

Smaller restaurants in Orlando’s historic, urban business centers could have an easier time obtaining state licenses to serve alcohol under a local bill offered by Rep. Rene Plasencia.

His proposal aims to cut some slack for restaurants that open in older, smaller business spaces in some of the city’s more historic buildings. Such facilities sometimes don’t meet state-mandated size minimums to qualify for liquor licenses.

On Monday, the bill, yet to be numbered, drew support from the Orange County Legislative Delegation, during a virtual meeting on Zoom.

“Many of these old buildings are being renovated and turned into restaurants. … These buildings are older; they’re smaller. We want to allow for the law to fit the requirements, the history, the architecture of these areas,” said Plasencia, an Orlando Republican.

The city of Orlando supports the measure, said Kyle Shephard, the city’s director of intergovernmental relations.

Current law requires restaurants to have at least 2,500 square feet and occupancy for at least 150 people to obtain a license. Plasencia’s bill would reduce those minimums to 1,800 square feet and 80 people in Orlando’s historic commercial districts.

The bill specifically covers restaurants in the city’s College Park, Audubon Park, Ivanhoe Village, Milk District, Mills-50 District, and Gateway Orlando District.

A similar provision already exists for downtown Orlando, approved in a local bill sponsored by Republican then-Rep. Mike Miller in 2015.

The next question, raised by Orlando Democratic Rep. Travaris McCurdy: is the list enough, or representative enough?

The listed districts include most of the city’s hot urban commercial centers outside of downtown. Yet they are predominantly on Orlando’s east side, surrounded by either predominantly White or Hispanic neighborhoods. McCurdy suggested the need for such options for business districts on Orlando’s west side, many of them in his legislative district. Orlando’s west side has the city’s largest Black communities.

“You’ve brought up a great point,” Plasencia responded.

“Let’s work together. Let’s see if we can add, whether it is one of the areas of your district or if you see multiple areas that can be added,” Plasencia said.

Democratic Rep. Anna V. Eskamani, whose legislative district includes most of the business districts named in the bill, offered her support for McCurdy’s request.

“I do know our small businesses in the city of Orlando are asking for this. And with the context of COVID-19, we should be doing everything we can to make their lives easier while also stressing safety with any type of alcohol consumption,” she said. “As we know, some of the issues we’ve had in Orlando with COVID-19 have been at the bars.”

The Orange County Delegation voted 9-0 to support the bill, with Sen. Linda Stewart and Reps. Kamia Brown and Geraldine Thompson, all Democrats, absent.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected]


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